Marcos Torres, who pastors in Western Australia, has created The Road to tell the story of Jesus in a way that appeals to secular young people who don't know anything about religion.
Question: You have created The Road: A Journey through the Narrative of Scripture, a new Adventist Bible study set designed to reach millennials and post-moderns, and it is just out. What does it look like? Is it a book with questions at the end of every chapter?
Answer: The Road is a new Adventist Bible study set that reframes Adventism linguistically, conceptually, and aesthetically for emerging secular generations. It has a clean, minimalistic design to avoid the old school off-putting religious art and it aims to explore the story of scripture as a story, not a set of disjointed doctrines. I think that’s where the magic lies really. When you let the story of scripture tell itself, it has an authentic vibe. My main goal here was to capture that and channel it in a meaningful way for emerging generations impacted by secularism.
So, to answer the last question: yes, there are a few questions after each chapter, but those questions are designed to facilitate a community experience. The set as a whole isn't like the traditional Q&A sets with forced questions designed to move someone through an Adventist conveyor belt. It’s a naturally unfolding story.
Why did you feel such a book was needed? Explain more about how The Road is different from traditional Adventist Bible study programs?
There are three things that make this set different to traditional ones. The language is contemporary and fresh. The design is clean and elegant. And the framework is thematic rather than topical, so it aims to tell a story rather than a mere transfer of propositional information.
I felt this was needed because I have a huge passion for sharing my faith with people who have never been to church, and also with young people in church. But most of the resources I was seeing at the ABC at the time assumed a person was sort of Christian already. Worse still, many of them were framed in old language and contexts that are foreign to Millennials, others used forced questions and felt really fake, and most had just terrible design — so yeah, nothing that was really compelling. But rather than just criticize I decided to do something about it.
What kinds of content did you try to leave out of your Bible study program? What kind of content did you make sure to include? Does the program talk about the Seventh-day Adventist Church or is it more generic?
I intentionally left religio-centric questions out because I have never met a contemporary Millennial seeker, in or out of church, that really cared about those questions. So long, drawn out studies on whether the Sabbath is really the first or seventh day, is the law still applicable under the new covenant, why are there so many denominations, is the secret rapture true, and so on. Those are questions churchy people trip over — not emerging secular people (many of whom don’t even know what a pastor is).
Instead, the book aims to include questions that are more existential, deeply human, social, and cosmic. So it deals with the meaning of life and the trajectory of existence while also being rooted in an atonement driven vision of social justice — what I refer to as cosmic justice — and how Jesus is the fulfilment of a true, just, and equitable society.
The program does talk about Adventism, but it focuses on Adventism as a narrative or movement as opposed to Adventism as an institution. When discussing the remnant, it’s important to identify that God’s alternative community — the new humanity Jesus births through himself — is not to be confused with the institutional or culturally established churches.
For many secular people, there is a kind of relief when they realize that I’m not promoting evangelicalism (which they associate with Trumpism and all kinds of political and socially toxic ideals like patriarchy, sexism, and nationalism). So, in introducing them to Jesus, I want them to know that God’s alternative community — the ecclesia — is not reflected in what they see in Christendom. And yeah, a part of that is in saying hey, I belong to a faith tribe that doesn’t believe in the religio-political legislating of morality, or supporting Israel despite Palestinian displacement, or who conceptualizes of God as an eternal sadist who tortures people forever. So, in that sense, Adventism as a movement is brilliant. But I stop short of suggesting that institutional membership or brand loyalty to Adventism as a “logo” is somehow the thing God is after, because not only does our institution and membership often perpetuate these same injustices, but God is after something significantly bigger: citizens of a new kingdom, not loyalists of a denominational brand.
In the end, my hope is that seekers will join the Adventist Church but that they do so because it tells a compelling story that is bigger than itself and that this story becomes their identity and not our denominational branding.
Tell us about the experience you have working with young people, and people with no experience of church or religion?
Oh man, so many stories. But if I was to sort of summarize them all I’d say that young, unchurched people today have deep spiritual longings, and they are searching. But in order to reach them effectively we need a paradigm shift in how we articulate scripture at a cultural level.
This really hit home with me in one of the traditional churches I pastor. I noticed a trend after a couple of years. All sort-of-moderately-religious-people who showed up usually hung around and even got baptized. But secular Australians — many Millennials and Zs — rarely hung around. So, I visited a bunch of them to figure out what the issue was. It wasn't the typical “church people are mean or judgmental” because this church wasn’t like that. Their big disconnect was how foreign our culture and articulation was to them. They wanted to know God and learn more about the Bible, but couldn’t wrap their heads around this foreign language and alien conceptualizations and frameworks, so they left. It was super painful, but a big moment that prompted me to do something radical for this generation.
Did you write the whole Bible study guide yourself? Did you get input from theologians or pastors? Did you get approval from the Adventist Church for the content and theology? Did you get help from any other writers or editors?
I’ve been working on it over the last five years and have repeatedly used it, experimented with it, and then gone back and tweaked it. So, in a sense, the book isn't the product of my own intellect. It's the product of many conversations with youth and secular people that have led me back to the Bible and helped shape the final outcome of the book.
I have definitely had input from pastors but had to be careful because the aim of this set is to seriously contextualize to a younger, increasingly de-churched audience, so I wanted to make sure that integrity remained intact. Sometimes, if you involve too many churchy people who don’t get that space, you end up with a product they are happy with but at the expense of cultural utility.
Who published the book? Is it self-published? Did you approach any publishers?
It is self-published. To be honest, after the experience Jason Satterlund had with The Record Keeper some years back, I was shattered and jaded. I think at that moment I decided, as a Millennial creative myself, that I would use my creativity independently. So that's what I did.
How are you marketing and distributing The Road?
You have an online component of the Bible study program. What does that consist of?
The online component has two sections. The Navigate Series is a set of training videos and resources on how to effectively engage secular seekers. I wanted to do more than just put out another study set. I wanted to invest in people and equip them to be post-church missionaries because the truth is, a study set can only do so much. The real work has to be done in community, and that means we as Adventists need to develop and nurture our ability to meaningfully engage with our surrounding culture
The other section is The Sightsee Collection which is a series of reflection videos that accompany each chapter in the book. The goal there is to expand on each chapter. If a person does the book alone, I can be their fellow traveler on the journey. But it also exemplifies how to communicate the gospel in a way that interacts with the secular mind so will be of immense value to missional Adventists as well.
Who is your target market? And where are they? Mainly in Australia?
For the sale of the book itself, I am currently focusing on Adventists who want to reach western culture: the US, Canada, the UK, Australia. My goal isn’t just to go out there and reach the culture myself. I want to multiply this vision and mission into the hearts of others and hopefully see a catalyst of new post-church missionaries emerge to effectively connect with our contemporary age.
So, at the moment, my target audience is missional Adventists. In the future, I will be creating an entirely separate online space that will go directly to the culture. I'm currently designing that with a friend of mine but it's not ready yet.
What feedback have you received so far on The Road?
Incredible feedback. People love how modern it is. They love its design and the way it reads and tells the narrative of scripture. They love that the prophetic narrative is framed within the ethic of social and humanitarian justice and not just dates and future events. I mean, I have gotten so much feedback I could fill up pages, but so far it's been remarkable.
How many copies have you sold?
The book just officially launched on November 5. I have sold a few hundred so far, which isn’t too bad for a relatively unknown pastor in a niche as small as Adventism.
I am hoping to get more exposure over time through word of mouth.
What are your hopes and goals for The Road? How will you judge its success?
My hopes and goals are really just two. First, that through it a new catalyst of missional Adventists can be equipped to contextualize the gospel to emerging generations. And second, that the many secular seekers that surround us will finally have a resource through which they can encounter the heart of God in a way that actually makes sense to them. If those two things happen, I’m happy.
Please tell us more about your background. What do you feel qualifies you to create this Bible study series?
I am a pastor in Western Australia, a graduate of Southern Adventist University, and a cultural aficionado. I have been immersed in the secular contextualization conversation for years now and have written books, blogs, articles, and run a podcast designed for that very thing. At the moment, I am also planting a new church in my city entirely reimagined for secular mission (it launches next year). So, this is definitely my element. And while I am not a secular outreach guru, I definitely believe I have something valuable to offer here.
But more to the point, I believe I am qualified to create this study set because I have messed up in cultural mission more than I like to remember. My list of failures is long, and I think it is those wounds and scars that have fueled this entire process. I’m not some evangelism icon or guru. I am just a Millennial who wants to share Jesus with others, has failed again and again, and learned from each of those bruises to connect meaningfully with people in a way that lifts Jesus up. And that’s really what this is all about.
See The Story Church Project for more information about The Road and how to order.
Marcos Torres has written many previous articles for Spectrum, mainly about reaching young people.
Alita Byrd is interviews editor for Spectrum.
Images courtesy of Marcos Torres.
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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/10860